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Temptation Of Xenophobia

February 8, 2017

For quite some time, foreign workers in Bangladesh remain a topic of debate. Flurry of blames heaped on them: they work here without valid documents, they send back $3/4 billion of our hard-earned forex every year to their homes, they are obstacle to recruit local unemployed Bangladeshis, we should not let them work in certain sectors etc.

Blames are not substantiated, rather made on xenophobic urge. In this regard, I would like to set out some of my observations. Before that, I would like to add a disclaimer: I am not privy to any group of foreign workers, nor am I speaking up for a particular country and its nationals.

1. According to National Board of Revenue and Home Ministry, there are 200,000 to 500,000 foreign nationals residing in Bangladesh. But only 10,000 have valid documents. Most of them hail from South Asian countries.First, we need to admit that foreign workers , whether they are legal or illegal that does not matter, are not working in the informal sector. They are working in the formal sector and bagging up well-paid jobs. An overwhelming presence of them in informal sector could lead to a political issue, which might not be missed by political parties. That is not the case here in Bangladesh.

2. Corporate sector made a giant leap due to foreign workers. Our telecom operators are country’s biggest contributors to govt’s tax revenue. Moreover, they also create opportunities for university graduates. Govt. made a law that requires that a multinational company reserve a certain percentage of top managerial positions to Bangladeshis.

At the same time, we witnessed workers’ unrest at major telecom operators’ corporate premises. In addition, telecom operators laid off workers and in November last year Bharti Airtel and Axiata merged their businesses as competition got stiffer. This limits the opportunity of widespread recruitment of Bangladeshi graduates.

3. We just cannot expect from a Bangladeshi business graduate the leadership abilities and services of a Lahore University of Management Science graduate or an Indian Institute  of  Management graduate. Their networking and problem solving skills help a company to grow its business in Bangladesh.

Consequently, this expansion creates more job opportunities for Bangladeshi graduates and govt gets more revenues.

4. Our notorious political culture also contaminated our business environment. Politics is the most lucrative business in our country. Business decision often smacks of political influence. Moreover, politicians stick their noses into recruitment process and demand extortion from business houses at regular intervals.

Foreign workers at decision-making positions could easily fend businesses off this unacceptable political influence.  Since they are citizens of another country, political goons think twice before bothering them and their embassies stand by them in the wake of any kind of menace or influence.

None other than the banking sector bears the full brunt of this political influence. If we allowed foreigners at management boards of our banks, the banks would possess a sound balance sheet.  Apart from political goons, business community is being regularly harassed by law-enforcing agencies. Sometimes vital business secrets are stolen or passed to others by rogue personnel of the agencies. Foreign workers do not easily bow to unlawful demands. In any kind of hostile situation, their community and embassy come to aid.

5. Most of the foreigners are working in our RMG industry. Former FBCCI president A K Azad Chowdhury in an TV interview claimed that $3/4 billion are spent to pay their salaries and Bangladeshis could have been recruited instead of them. Why are entrepreneurs not doing that? If there were ample of Bangladeshi workers to replace foreign workers , entrepreneurs would hire them offering lower than what they usually pay a foreigner.

Even if we train Bangladeshi workers or equip them with the necessary set of skills  they are not going to replace foreigners pretty soon.

Answer lies somewhere else: A foreign worker is more capable than a Bangladeshi to employ his skills and efforts at his work place in a given hour. Thus s/he draws a higher salary and is unlikely to be substituted by a Bangladeshi worker in short or medium term.

And because of their presence, our RMG industry flourishes. This means, again, more jobs for Bangladeshis and more work orders for factories.

6. Education is a sector where we can urgently seek contribution of foreign workers.  To build a knowledge-based society and economy, for which this govt is committed, investment is the key. There are dearth of quality teachers in our educational institutes. If we allow them to work here, from school to university, they will help us to build a knowledge-based society and a workforce capable of withstanding future challenges. Asians, too, work in education sector in western countries. It does not indicate that there is a shortage of qualified teachers there. Instead, it means they want to make use of all the minds coming from all over the world to create their societies.

We should make flexible laws and amendments to existing laws, so that they can enter the education industry easily and enlighten our future generation.

I have made my observations, which loiter mostly on efficiency and positive impact of foreign workers in our economy and society. In this age of globalization, we should cease our patriotic cry to curb entry of foreign workers. When policies of other countries cultivate corruption in our society and hurt our economy, why should we deprive our society and economy of foreign workers’ contribution?

We need to tax their earnings and to give them scope to validate their papers. Let us not act on xenophobic urge. Let us not make the foreign workers scapegoat for the mismatches in our economy. Let prudence give a chance.  A wrong policy decision will cost us dearly and hold back our society and economy.

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From → Analysis

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